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Banded Darter

Banded Darter, illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing


A moderate sized darter reaching about 2.5-inches long. Its back and upper sides are mottled olive-brown with 6-7 small dark brown cross bars, and its sides are covered with dark green bars with a yellow-white belly. It has a dusky bar under the eye and another extending forward from the eye onto the snout. It has 12 dorsal fin rays, 9 anal fin rays, and 45 to 48 scales along its lateral line, which is complete. The cheeks are scaled.


Banded Darter Distribution

Widespread distribution in rivers and large creeks in northeast Iowa, but not abundant.


insect larvae, crustaceans, and other aquatic invertebrates

State Record

State Records are not documented for non-game species.

Expert Tip



The Banded Darter can be found in all main drainage systems in eastern and northeast Iowa, as well as in the Lizard Creek and upper Iowa River watersheds. It lives in the upper reaches of Iowa’s major interior rivers, such as the Cedar and Maquoketa rivers, but is most abundant in smaller tributaries of these rivers. Although its distribution is fairly widespread, the Banded Darter is not common and is listed as rare in most collections. Within the Misissippi River system, the Banded Darter is found from the Verdign`s River in Kansas eastward to the upper Allegheny River basin in New York and from the Minnesota River south to the Fall Line. The Banded Darter is fairly common throughout most of its range. Populations on the margin of its range, mostly to the west, appear in jeopardy.

In Iowa, this colorful species lives in the rocky riffles of the upper reaches of our major interior streams, such as the Cedar and Maquoketa rivers. It is most abundant in smaller streams and creeks feeding these rivers. 

Adult Banded Darters are often found in swift riffles over gravel or rubble bottoms. They are found in abundance within rocky riffles with dense growths of filamentous algae, eel grass, pondweed or aquatic mosses. Juveniles prefer quiet water around emergent aquatic plants like waterwillow or in leave piles. Researchers found that spawning concentrations were highest in riffles of streams with moderate to high gradients less than 50 feet wide and less than 2 feet deep, and that the Banded Darter winters in deeper waters. Very little is known about the life habits of this species.

Like the other darter species in Iowa, these fish have no importance to anglers. It is viewed as vulnerable according to the Iowa Wildlife Action Plan, but it is not on Iowa's endangered, threatened, or special concern species list (571 IAC 77.2(2) (2015)).

Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.


Harlan, J.R., E.B. Speaker, and J. Mayhew. 1987. Iowa fish and fishing. Iowa Conservation Commission, Des Moines, Iowa. 323pp.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Wildlife Action Plan

Loan-Wilsey, A. K., C. L. Pierce, K. L. Kane, P. D. Brown and R. L. McNeely. 2005. The Iowa Aquatic Gap Analysis Project Final Report. Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Iowa State University, Ames.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources Species Guide

Illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.


Present in these Iowa water bodies:

Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Waterloo Creek Allamakee Streams runs through Dorchester along Waterloo Creek Drive and Highway 76. 10.50
Trout Run (Winneshiek) Winneshiek Located on the south side of Decorah off Trout Run Road. 2.20
Bear Creek Fayette Located 6 miles southeast of Fayette off of Kornhill Road or CR C24. Access from 128th Street. 1.20
Bass Creek Fayette Located near St. Lucas and empties into the Turkey River. 1.09
Baileys Ford Delaware 3 miles southeast of Manchester - follow signage from Jefferson Road. 0.60